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The adventures of Kwai Chang Caine, a half-white/half-Chinese Shaolin monk wandering throughout the Wild West, helping people along the way with sage wisdom for the good people and devastating expertise in martial arts for the bad ones.
When it premiered, it was a unique Western series with an Asian lead character (albeit played by an actor with no Asian ancestry) who refused to use a gun and looked out for the innocent, especially the minority groups that the genre typically ignored. The emphasis of the series was very much on philosophy, particularly Eastern philosophy, rather than gunplay.
While it has elements of a Stern Chase (given that he is wanted for killing the Chinese Emperor's nephew after he fatally shot his beloved master in cold blood), it was usually not a pressing matter for the character outside the occasional bounty hunter. Caine is also a stern chaser, looking for his half brother. He often enters a town only a few days after his brother has left it.
It has since become seen as the archetypical Walking the Earth show with a wandering adventurer who has higher spiritual aspirations, but is still ready to get tough when called for. Some of its dialogue became cliches in their own right (calling students "Grasshopper", and "When you can take the pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave" are two of the best known of these).
A Sequel Series, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, featured Caine's Identical Grandson and his own estranged son, a modern day cop. It lasted longer than its namesake, though it failed to gain nearly so much attention. Kung Fu 3D was a series of 12 Webisodes hosted on the Warner Brothers website in 1999; while it featured a character named Kwai Chang Caine voiced by David Carradine, it deviated from the show's canon. Caine is left on the temple's steps by his mother as a baby, and he is in search of his father instead of his brother. The web series had No Ending.
Either invented or introduced the concept of a kung-fu Western to...well, Western audiences.
If you're looking for martial arts tropes, see This Index Knows Kung Fu.
- Adventure Towns
- Annoying Arrows: In one episode, one of Caine's enemies (a rogue Shaolin monk) attempts to assassinate Caine (before a commercial break, of course), by shooting him in the back with an arrow while he is meditating. In a later scene after the commercial break, Caine pulls what is probably one of his finer moments by confronting his assailant, reaching around, pulling the arrow out of his back, and then contemptuously throwing the arrow at his enemy's feet.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: In The Legend Continues, Peter often frowned on the idea of supernatural phenomenon being the cause of the episode's case. Even after they had often faced various such phenomena up close.
- Asians Speaking English/Translation Convention
- Badass Family: The Caines, naturally.
- By-The-Book Cop: In the first season of The Legend Continues, Peter often disapproved of his father's interference in police investigations. By the time he himself re-learned his own childhood martial arts training, he began to value Caine's assistance more.
- Catch Phrase: "Grasshopper" among others.
- Does Not Like Shoes: One of the only times Caine wears footwear is to attend a wedding.
- Fighting Series
- Flashback Echo
- Friend on the Force: Several of the cops in The Legend Continues, although most of them simply couldn't figure out the senior Caine at all. Peter himself was this for his father.
- Handicapped Badass: The blind Master Po.
- Humble Goal
- I Am Not My Father: Peter cites this trope in The Legend Continues, during the first season's opening sequence:
Peter: Look, I'm not my father. I don't do kung fu. I'm a cop. That's who I am; that's what I do.
- Identical Grandson: Kwai Chang Caine from The Legend Continues, grandson of Kwai Chang from the original series. Both played by David Carradine.
- David Carradine also played Matthew Caine, Kwai Chang's son & Kwai Chang II's father, in an episode or two of TLC.
- Koan. Well yes, naturally.
- Subverted in the Pilot Movie for Kung Fu: The Legend Continues when Peter quotes his father back to him.
Peter: "Ah yes. Darkness shall overcome the light," as you would say. "But splinters of black will easily be crushed. The illumination of one candle shall forever touch mankind's luminous spirit."
- Levitating Lotus Position: Kwai Chang Caine did this sometimes while meditating in The Legend Continues.
- Magical Asian: Masters Po and Kan to Caine and Caine himself to most white people he meets.
- The Magnificent Seven Samurai: The Legend Continues had an episode called "Dragonswing", where Caine and Peter assemble a team of Shao Lin alumni to help a friend rescue his girlfriend from the thugs who've taken over his Northwestern town. Robert Vaughn guest-starred as Rykker, a mercenary very similar to his Magnificent Seven character.
- The Man They Couldn't Hang: In "The Nature of Evil"
- Martial Pacifist: Caine never wants trouble, but woe be anyone who forces him to fight.
- Punishment Box: Caine finds himself in a two-man Box, and teaches the other man in the box to meditate so as to avoid the torturous aspects of being in the box. The guards & other prisoners are amazed that they're able to leave under their own power instead of being carried out.
- Stern Chase
- Strictly Formula: In each episode Caine basically goes to a town, townspeople don't like him, finds open-minded ally, finds enemy, must fight, makes monk-ly decision concerning friend and enemy, flashback to the power of five, win fight, credits roll.
- Sword Over Head: Inevitable when Caine's lifestyle and abilities cross over with the show's genre. When he had to make the decision about a Ninja, this was one of his old teachers' quotes on the matter:
When you must choose between one good and another, or one evil and another, remember this: If men would contend with you, seek not their death, but choose your own life.
- Took a Level In Badass: In one of the early episodes of The Legend Continues, Peter's in a bind against the Villain of the Week, who's beating the crap out of him like nobody's business. Then he instinctively taps into his forgotten kung fu skills via Groin Attack. The next season would focus on him gradually re-learning everything he'd been taught as a child.
- Walking the Earth — Trope Namer; well, indirectly.
- Warrior Poet
- The Western
- What Could Have Been: The series was pitched to the TV studios by Bruce Lee, who originally intended to star in it.
- When You Snatch the Pebble: This is the Trope Namer.